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Encore performance
The goal remained the same for Ceres High's varsity boys tennis program even after the Bulldogs lost their best player to eligibility three weeks into the Valley Oak League season.

Ceres made history on Tuesday, April 22 when it qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II Team Playoffs for the second straight year. The Bulldogs secured the conference's second and final berth with a 3-2 win over visiting East Union.

"Our hard work paid off," singles player Aaron Salazar said. "It's a really gratifying feeling. Pretty much anything from this point on is icing on the cake."

Added second-year head coach Brian de la Porte: "I couldn't be more proud."

Ceres High won five of seven league matches down the stretch to earn another trip to the playoffs.

The Bulldogs beat Central Valley (10-5), Sierra (4-1), Oakdale (3-2), Sonora (3-2) and East Union (3-2).

"It's been a total team effort from the top guy to the last," de la Porte said. "They battled. That's the bottom line."

Salazar, Mike Hundal, Harman Bains, Jose Cortes, Raul Massie, Wilson Liang and Brian Moreno accepted and stepped up to the challenge.

"It's driven the team that much more," Bains said.

Harman had perhaps the biggest impact after moving from No. 1 doubles to No. 3 singles.

He compiled a 4-1 record after falling 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to Sutinder Singh during Ceres' 3-2 loss to Weston Ranch on April 3.

His 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 triumph over David Miller lifted the Bulldogs past the Mustangs on April 15. Bains overcame a 4-0 deficit in the second set.

"There was a ton of pressure on him and he dealt with it," de la Porte said. "Two weeks earlier, he didn't."

"I changed mentally," Harman said. "I got stronger. Playing with Aaron and Mike improved my game. They both helped me a lot."

Cortes and Massie clinched Ceres' victory against Sonora by beating Chris Sanchez and Dylan Burns 6-7 (8-6), 6-3, 7-5 in No. 1 doubles play.

Liang and Moreno were also victories. They beat Nick Bateman and Ben Smith 6-0, 6-0 in No. 2 doubles play.

"They came up clutch," Aaron said.

Hundal and Salazar were major contributors as well. Mike and Aaron posted records of 4-2 and 3-3, respectively, after moving to the No. 1 and 2 singles spots in the Bulldogs' lineup.

"We practiced harder," Hundal said. "We played with our hearts. We took everything seriously."

"I knew we could do it," Salazar said. "Everybody has confidence in their abilities. We believe in ourselves."

Ceres High struggled in 2005 and 2006, posting a combined record of 7-21.

The Bulldogs have experienced a reversal of fortune since 2007.

"Two years isn't a fluke," Salazar said.

"I'm not going to take all the credit," de la Porte said. "Brandon Moring laid the foundation."

Moring directed the 2006 Bulldogs to a respectable 6-8 mark. Brandon's currently teaching and coaching at East Union High School.

Ceres High made the playoffs for the first time since 1991 last year. The Bulldogs finished second in the VOL at 12-2 and upset Metropolitan Conference champion McClatchy 5-4 on the strength of Cortes' and Bains' 6-3, 6-3 victory in No. 2 doubles play on the road in the opening round of the playoffs.

"Last year was nice," Salazar said. "But this year is a little bit sweeter because it was harder. Everybody gave us their best shot."

Ceres High has a lot to be proud of, especially fourth-year players Aaron and Mike. They played key roles during the Bulldogs' turnaround.

"We left our mark on this program," Salazar said.